I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Checks on Senior Law-Enforcement Agents

Yesterday, I watched Four Corners (http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2011/08/15/3291474.htm), one of Australia’s leading current affairs programs (without advertising), and feel compelled to reflect on it.

It was about Mark Standen, assistant director of the NSW Crime Commission or, to say it plainly, the top lawman in drug-laws enforcement of the most populous Australian state.

To summarise what happened, I will just copy a paragraph from Australian ABC’s website (http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2011/08/15/3291474.htm ): “On Thursday 11th August, after a five month trial, a jury found Mark Standen guilty of conspiring to import and supply 300 kilograms of pseudo-ephedrine, a chemical that could produce $60 million worth of "ice", or crystal meth. He was also found guilty of perverting the course of justice.”

After a thirty-year career in law enforcement, Standen let himself be corrupted. It probably didn’t help that he had some gambling debts, but for me an important question is: how can an honest man get involved with crimes that literally contribute to killing young people?

My answer is that he must have had in himself enough selfishness to commit a crime regardless of the consequences.

Although obviously I cannot be sure, I don’t think I could ever get involved with drug trafficking. Respect for other human being drives all my relationships, from the most fleeting to those that have remained with me for the largest part of my adult life.

What arrogance to think that, although you earn 250 AU$/year, you are justified in contributing to waste other people’s lives to feed your gambling habits or to buy jewellery from Tiffany for your girl friend.

We know that crooks can be everywhere. In a country like Australia, the vast majority of people at worst only indulge themselves in some tax cheating or driving above the speed limit. Not acceptable activities, for sure, although somehow tolerated by many. But drug trafficking is something else.

I don’t think he became a criminal for some ten thousand dollars. As I said above, he must have held a seed of criminality inside himself well before the opportunity to smuggle synthetic-drug precursors presented itself.

Therefore, a key question for me is: how could such a latent criminal reach the top echelons of law enforcement?

Certainly, Standen must have gone through several levels of vetting checks, specifically design to weed out potential crooks. And yet, he was clever enough to pass them all.

That’s why I support the idea of instituting an independent commission of enquiry into his career in law enforcement.

We know that good networking is essential to progress within any organisation, and we also know that there is solidarity within the ranks of organisations that sometimes have to face popular criticism or opposition, like the armed forces, the fire brigades, the police, the judiciary, etc.

Still, to what scrutiny was Standen subjected before and after reaching senior positions in the NSW Crime Authority? Was he checked at all once he became assistant director? Perhaps not. Perhaps it was thought that if he was there he must have been OK.

Standen’s misdeed were only discovered because the Dutch police found out that an English “drug facilitator” (an interesting item to put on a CV!), was in contact with Bill Jalalaty, an Australian businessman. When the Australian Federal Police, on request of the Dutch, placed Jalalaty’s mobile phone under surveillance, they discovered that he was having suspicious conversations with none other than the top drug-cop of NSW.

Were Standen’s gambling problems known within the Agency and, if yes, why wasn’t he considered to be a risk?

A wide-scoped investigation should ascertain whether the vetting process applied within law-enforcement agencies, especially concerning seniors officials, is sound. Perhaps they are, and Standen was only an exceptional deceiver who managed to slip through the net. An almost-impossible feat never to be repeated for decades to come.

But perhaps the vetting process has shortcomings that should be fixed.

I believe that there should be regular checks on the presence of risk factors, like gambling, medication, and drinking problems. And not only on the subject, but also on his immediate family. I know: right to privacy and all that... But if you want to be a commissioner in a crime authority, you should be prepared to forfeit some of those rights.

There are jobs in law enforcement and intelligence that are too sensitive to be left in the hands of potential crooks. Any risk factor should be carefully considered.

Some criminal will always manage to escape detection. Ultimately, it is the prevailing culture of a nation that determines whether the authorities are honest or not. But checks are better than trust, when so much is at stake.

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